“If he does, I don’t know if he can stay as a leader,” said one senior GOP senator, who said several of his colleagues had similar views and asked not to be named when discussing sensitive domestic politics.
Other GOP senators were just as dull.
“No, no, no,” Senator Ron CN, an ally of Wisconsin Republican and Trump, told CNN on the question of whether he could support McConnell if he voted for Trump’s conviction, calling that vote a “dangerous precedent,” adding : “I don’t even think we should negotiate.”
“The mob was fed on lies,” McConnell said on the ground Tuesday. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop the specific process of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like. But we continued.”
After 10 Republican ranks get in line to join every Democrat and accuse Trump of inciting an uprising last week, several Republican senators share a similar view as McConnell, saying they are indeed insecure and listening to the arguments, a key sign that they may well be shaken by the eventually occupied position of GOP leader.
McConnell, who has aligned with Trump’s agenda for the past four years and has been responsible for reshaping the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court, has barely interacted with Trump in recent weeks after the former president became increasingly isolated because of his efforts to overthrow him. the election.
Republicans familiar with McConnell believe he will take the temperature of the Senate GOP conference and ultimately make a decision based in part on the views of his colleagues and the mood in the country when the time comes to cast the vote.
Some Trump loyalists say if McConnell and at least 16 of his GOP colleagues join 50 Democrats to condemn the ex-president, the party’s base will experience a significant setback that will thwart hopes of regaining a majority in the Senate next year.
“What good is it to charge a guy in Florida?” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a friend of Trump’s, who spoke at length with the former president the night before Biden’s inauguration. “I think if any Republican leader type who embraces that does a lot of harm to the party.”
Graham, a South Carolina Republican, argued that the GOP needs Trump to be successful next year.
“For the party to move forward, we need to move the party with Donald Trump,” Graham said in an interview. “There’s no way to be a successful Republican party without President Trump working with all of us and all of us working with him. That’s just a fact. And I think we’ve got a fair chance to come back in 2022. But we can do it.” without the President. ”
Not everyone agrees with this – and some Republicans are clearly signaling their readiness to ban Trump from ever seeking his office again after convicting him at trial.
“Such wrongdoing cannot go unpunished,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Republican, about Trump’s actions.
McConnell’s office declined to comment. But the GOP leader’s closest allies insist it’s not clear where he’s headed.
John Cornyn, a GOP senator in Texas and a member of the GOP’s executive team, said he didn’t believe McConnell had decided how to vote on the verdict.
“During my hearing, he said several times that he really didn’t make a decision and waits to see what will be presented,” Cornyn said of the GOP leader.
Senator Mitt Romney, the Utah Republican who was the only senator in the GOP who voted to condemn Trump in 2020, said McConnell told his colleagues, “Vote for his conscience,” adding that the GOP leader was in no way trying to force people to do so. to go one way or another. ”
“We are asking for an impartial judiciary,” Romney said. “We are not asking for impartial justice unless it is detrimental to your party. That is why it is my responsibility and I believe that each of us must do what we swear to. And the consequences of that are difficult to predict.”
Other Republicans are gaining firmer ground – including Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who led the failed effort to destroy Biden’s January 6 election victory in Arizona.
“I don’t think we should focus on political retaliation for Democrats,” Cruz said to the question that McConnell still keeps open the possibility of convicting Trump.
Freshman Senator Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican who, like Cruz, voted to overthrow Biden’s victory in Arizona and Pennsylvania after the riots, argued that the GOP should remain united during the trial.
“I’m not at the trial,” Tuberville said. “Are you going to accuse a guy who’s out of town anymore?”
Asked what it would mean for the party if Republicans joined the Democrats to condemn Trump, Tuberville said, “It wouldn’t be good. It’s all about a team, and if it starts to split the team, it’ll just tear it apart.”
While many GOP senators are uncertain, it is clear that McConnell’s vote remains the most influential.
Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, says many Republican senators “will influence him and seek his guidance from him.”
But he noted that McConnell’s vote would greatly affect the party’s election prospects.
“The party will not be determined by a single vote,” Cramer said. “In the states, people will judge by the senator’s vote. Not by how Kentucky’s senior senator votes.”
CNN Ali Zaslav and Lauren Koenig contributed to the report.